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Match preview: Workington v York City Knights
GARY THORNTON admits it is a gamble but is confident the shock inclusion of teenage prodigy Greg Minikin in a much-changed York City Knights team tonight – throwing the youngster into the biggest game of his life – will pay dividends.
The Knights, four points adrift at the foot of the Kingstone Press Championship, travel to Workington (7.30pm) needing to end an eight-match losing run to stand any real chance of beating the drop, with only two games to follow. They could even be relegated tonight if results go against them.
Thornton says his hands are tied somewhat given withdrawals from his squad but believes the 18-year-old rookie will do the club proud. He might even help to turn around York’s fortunes just when they need it most.
“It’s a big decision. It’s a huge game for him. But I’m hoping he comes in without fear and plays as he has been doing for the under-20s,” said Thornton of Minikin, who takes the place of captain – and his U20s coach – James Ford at centre.
“He’s been outstanding in the U20s and deserves it. It is a risk, but there is a risk in everything.
“I’m not in the same situation as Featherstone or Halifax where they have ten or 11 lads on the sidelines just as proven as those in the team. It is a gamble but not picking him would also be a gamble and I feel it’s the best option. Sometimes when you’re young you don’t feel pressure or have fear.”
Minikin has only played twice before, in an inexperienced team at Super League club Catalan in the Challenge Cup in May, and in defeat at Leigh in June – when he marked his league debut with a try. He has been prolific in the U20s, and Ford, once of Super League, is always singing his praises.
“At Catalan on his debut, I thought he was outstanding,” said Thornton. “I have a lot of confidence in him. I wouldn’t have picked him otherwise.
“James maybe sees him as his protégé in a way – how ironic would it be if Greg came in and kept James out of the team?
“I think he’ll relish his chance. I like his attitude. Great sporting stories are made of things like this. “I think he will be a first-teamer next year anyway. He’s maybe not ready to play every week this year, but as a one-off? He can be good for us.”
Ford cannot play twice in five days due to a troublesome knee, while winger George Elliott needs to pass a ‘head test’ after a bang at the end of Sunday’s agonising defeat to Hunslet. Fellow wingers Dougie Flockhart and Nat Browne are unavailable.
In the pack, prop Jack Aldous is ill, and hooker Kriss Brining has decided against making the trip as he has to re-sit a York St John University exam tomorrow morning.
“That’s a massive blow,” admitted Thornton.
“What can I do? He knows how important the game is but he knows how important his exams are.”
Winger Ben Dent, prop Luke Stenchion, half-back/hooker Jonny Presley come in, while Ed Smith is poised to retake his second-row spot from Ryan Mallinder.
Workington boss Gary Charlton has bemoaned Town’s fixture pile-up, but Thornton, too, is not happy to be given the longest trip of the year on a Thursday night.
“Workington aren’t really in a worse situation than us – unless you have big squads it’s hard, and I think they’ve had some help from (partner club) Widnes.
“We have to travel all the way to west Cumbria in midweek – the fixture list doesn’t make sense. But you’ve got to get on with it.”
Workington Town: from Briscoe, Carter, Connor, Hulme, Flynn, Mossop, Miller, Lupton, Forber, Craven, Dowes, Mattinson, Thackray, B Phillips, Stack, Olstrum, Morris, Rooney, Robinson, McAvoy, C Phillips, Acton, Coward.
Knights (probable): Carr, Elliott/Dent, Minikin, J Latus, S Latus, Brown, Johnston, Freer, Lee, Nicholson, Scott, Smith, Pickets. Subs: Presley, Stenchion, Pickles, Broughton.
Referee: Matt Thomason (Warrington).
WORKINGTON coach Gary Charlton admits he is anything but confident going into tonight’s all-important match as his “battered and bruised” side face their fourth game in 12 days.
Charlton, angered by a fixture list which he reckons has hampered his side’s chances of finishing higher than the eighth place they currently occupy, says he can only guess how his team will fare against a York side who are scrapping for their lives.
However, he has half a dozen players back in contention after missing Sunday’s defeat at Barrow and he has asked his troops for one last push to confirm a Kingstone Press Championship play-off spot in their remaining two games, starting with their last home game of the regular season tonight.
“We’ve got bangs, bumps, bruises, tiredness, everything,” he said.
“Asking them to play four times in 12 days is unbelievable. We’ve had seven games in 25 days.
“I don’t think it’s a level playing field that we’ve been playing on. A few things need to be looked at by the Rugby Football League regarding players’ welfare.
“We played Batley, Featherstone and Sheffield in the space of eight days and the players have had to back that up with four in 12 days. They’re semi-professional players, not full-time. They don’t get the rehab they need. They have to go to work after a game.”
Following a surprise victory at Batley on July 28, Town have lost four in five, including at York’s relegation rivals Hunslet and Barrow. They did beat Keighley in their rearranged fixture last Wednesday to maintain a play-off berth.
They also have winger Elliott Miller back from a two-match ban, while Callum Phillips, Jason Mossop, Jamie Acton and Kris Coward could all return. Carl Forber, pictured, is also in contention for a recall.
Charlton admitted the Knights gave his side a “bit of a touch up” in the reverse fixture in March – the 48-6 win was York’s best this term – and seemed surprised Gary Thornton’s men were now bottom.
“They were very good – they had a great kicking game, they were enthusiastic and had an offload game we will have to combat,” he said.
Asked whether he remained confident given the sides’ respective standings, he added: “I’m not confident about anything at the moment. I would be if we were fully fit but I don’t know who will turn up.
“They’re battered and bruised but it’s our last game in front of our home fans. Hopefully that will lift us.”
WORKINGTON in focus
Last year: 3rd in Championship One.
Coaches: Gary Charlton and Martin Oglanby.
TOWN have experience in ex-Super League front-row pair Ewan Dowes and Jamie Thackray, veteran Peter Lupton and mid-season recruit Shaun Briscoe, the former England back, but only a few others in the squad were widely known outside Cumbria.
One to watch: Aussie Jarrad Stack is often the pick of Town’s pack.
Partnership club: Widnes.
Ground: Derwent Park.
Miles from York: 136.
Prediction: Will be desperate to finish in the play-offs and above arch-rivals Whitehaven, currently in ninth, and home form was always going to be key to their success.
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